Book review: How Proust Can Change Your Life

How Proust Can Change Your Life.How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

I’ve decided to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time this year, because it’s been sitting on my shelf for too long, and I figured if I was ever going to take a stab at it, it should be now.

Whatever the merits of Proust’s work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length.

The problem is that such a work requires a bit of a running start. I mean, there’s multiple volumes, and indeed, not much goes on between the covers, albeit in beautifully rendered sentences. The whole collection of tomes could probably be considered unnecessary for modern life, but still it persists: something people aspire to read because, like a genteel Everest, it’s there.

How Proust Can Change Your Life is the baby-steps that many readers – ones who aren’t studying the text it addresses, at least – embark upon before tackling the real thing.

You probably know Alain de Botton from the whole School of Life thing. How you view his prose probably depends greatly on whether you think this School is a load of middle-class wank, or something else. It is difficult, certainly, to eviscerate any imagery of a smug Old Boys’ tie-wearing grin from the copy, which is understandable given the author’s background, and thinking-person’s-goop business.

(I was able to file that irritation away as I felt this might be a good warm-up.)

Written in 1997, this is one of de Botton’s earlier books, but it’s one that I associate most closely with him. And now that I’ve a fair familiarity with his type of writing from his omnipresent videos, I found the book to be more of the same: clever (sometimes too clever) examination of what this dated, overlong novel can teach us, with plenty of biographical Proustian moments salted throughout.

(You’ll learn more about Proust’s wanking habits than you need.)

The key takeaway from the book is to approach everything in a measured manner – slowly, giving it the time engagement requires. Obviously, de Botton writes of things that seem common sense, and that are applicable to both Proust’s text and our own lives. And I understand that while some of his suggestions seem obvious or even twee, there’s some good stuff in here that most of us could take advantage of – assuming we have the liberty of time to implement them.

(This in itself is a privilege which I suspect the author has, while many of his readers may not.)

However, the wry musings on the source text whetted my appetite, and gave a small indication of what I might expect when I begin In Search Of Lost Time, so in that regard it was a worthwhile read.

Next stop, the real thing.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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